Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 12 to 17, 2010

January 12 yesterday we saw three muskrats up on the ice off the headland unfortunately I didn’t have my camera. I’ve never seen that many up on the ice at once in the river, often one, sometimes two but never three. Warm enough yesterday for beavers to get out of holes in the ice, and cold enough last night to refreeze any snow that might have moistened as the temperature approached freezing. It was cold this morning and stayed cold during my hike. The trail the deer and I use did seem firmer but everywhere else was hard slogging as usual. Snow shoes would make it worse since sinking down into two inches of slush in snow shoes is no treat. So I grinned and bore it, and slushed up the Big Pond far enough to see that no beaver dug out of the depression in the snow (really not a hole any more) beside the lodge. Despite the warmth of yesterday, there were no rabbit or hare tracks where I’ve been seeing them in the woods on the way to the Lost Swamp Pond. It began snowing as I walked, not enough to cover tracks in the woods. At first glance nothing looked different on the Lost Swamp Pond, certainly no otters had slid about in the snow. I walked down to the lodge in the southeast end of the pond and saw that the hole an otter used to get out from under the ice the other day was snowed over, and the trail an otter used was now a faint memory in the snow.

And there appeared to be no evidence of otters having been out at the dam,

or the lodge out in the west end of the pond. As for their big latrine in the west end of the pond, there were perhaps some subtle differences from two days ago but I trust otters not to be subtle when they come up from under the ice.

At the same time, there was no evidence of them leaving the pond by likely routes, though I didn’t walk up to the far upper end of the pond, but why would the otters move up into meadows deep in snow? So I assume they are still under the ice. Indeed as I walked along the north shore I thought I heard something slip into the water under the ice, but there was a freshly dug mink hole going under the ice not far away. This after I had faulted the minks in a previous journal entry for not making their usual explorations along that shore.

Rather than head home the way I came, I decided to hike over to Meander Pond. Since the snow was probably deepest in the cattail marshes and meadows I tried to avoid them, preferring the slush of the Second Swamp Pond. Mink are still active there and up around the East Trail Pond, but I was more impressed that a porcupine walked on a fallen tree trunk despite the snow on top

to get to its work on trees up on the ridge southwest of the diminished pond.

I get the impression that porcupines like plowing through the snow. Next I tried to avoid the ridges though after I got bogged down below them, I decided going up and over ridges might be easier despite climbing in the snow. Anyway, I reached Meander Pond. There had been enough snow this morning so I couldn’t expect to see any fresh beaver prints. There were none around the spring in the northeast corner of the pond. There were beaver trails coming out of the hole close to the lodge. One trail went over to the cache by the lodge

And the other went by where I was standing and then went up to the two red oaks the beavers have been gnawing up on the north slope of the pond.

During all the years I’ve watched trees cut by beavers, I’ve never made a study of their tipping point. The beavers have cut around the whole tree into the inner wood, but it looks to me like they have to take off at least another two inches.

The beavers did not venture anywhere else on or around the pond, except they probably came out of the hole in the dam a few days ago

And went over to take a few gnaws on a tree a few feet away.

There was a bit of a trail continuing along toward the stands of cherry saplings but it ended once the deer who had last used it turned to the left. South Bay was also slushy especially along the north shore. Walking lightly toward the south shore I found a dry passage.

We went to our land briefly in the afternoon. I headed down to check on the Boundary Pond beavers. I saw rabbit tracks near our house and along Grouse Alley. Then there were several trails that I could not identify heading down to and through Boundary Pond

They didn’t investigate the snowed over lodge so I eliminated any predator of beavers.

Well, it was cold, about 16 degrees, and half my brain had probably shut off to conserve power. When I got back to the road I saw what I had been seeing:

Turkey tracks.

January 14 start of a thaw. Cloudy most of the time, we worked on firewood around our house on the island, but by the time we got to our land, the sun was out, though too late to start a rush of dripping. Driving in we herded a flock of a dozen turkeys off the road and then as I walked down the road, three turkeys trotted across the road and one flew. I could see where they had walked along the banks of the Deep Pond and where they had pecked off honeysuckle berries. I haven’t checked the otter latrine along the shore of White Swamp for several months, and I generally do so once the snow settles hoping to see that the otters had popped out of holes in the bank and pooped around the perimeter. Going down the ravine I usually take to the huge swamp, I followed a porcupine trail part of the way, and a couple of porcupine trails crossed my path. Then the trail I was following did an abrupt U-turn.

Never seen that before. It appeared it might have dug into the snow at one point. Perhaps there was enough trickling water there to slack its thirst and it turned back. Down on the huge expanse of the swamp I saw a stampede of tracks out in an area free of vegetation. In the snow it is easy to overestimate how many animals are making the tracks you see, but this had to have been done by more than a few.

And I think deer were doing the stamping, though the way the prints were melting didn’t give me any help.

Of course coyotes could have been attracted to what the deer had been doing, not that I could tell what the they were doing. When I see this I usually conclude that the deer were stamping down the snow to get to some water, but along the shore I saw an open hole of water where a little spring must be, and no deer tracked their way to it for a drink. There were tracks coming down the hill, which certainly looked like deer tracks to me.

Although I’m not sure what coyote trails down a slope would look like. I saw the same kind of tracks and left my own below where the otters have often latrined in the winter, but I didn’t see any signs of otters.

The road that skirts our land also skirts White Swamp where there is a break in the ridge that forms the swamp. I saw trails taking that easy way that first looked like the turkey trails I’ve been seeing everywhere, but they headed to a log sticking out of the snow

And that didn’t look like something to attract turkeys. Then I saw some fox prints, and maybe even a bobcat’s print.

I also checked the Boundary Pond to see if the beavers had come out to enjoy the above freezing temperature. Judging from the vent on the top of their lodge they had been doing some heavy breathing.

I sat for a few minutes, but didn’t hear a sound from inside the lodge. And the hole the deer had made was slushed over and no signs that the beavers had the least interest in it.

I only saw the trail of one porcupine around the pond leading to hemlock trees and to the hemlock boughs it has been cutting down.

Back next to our shed, I saw bark “crumbs” around a pine tree

And the stripping the porcupine had done was just above eyelevel.

One of the trails to the tree led back to a hemlock in Grouse Alley. I usually find a porcupine den in that gully, but not yet this winter. Once we get some firm snow, it’ll be easier to hike everywhere and see where all the porcupines are sleeping. Meanwhile, the snowfleas made an appearance, peppering old prints in the snow, especially under the hemlocks.

January 16 just above freezing with a strong southwest wind which didn’t make the thawing outside our door inviting. So we hit on the idea of driving over to the Nature Center where we could start a hike out of the wind. Going down the East Trail we saw a porcupine out on a low limb of a pine tree right next to the trail. The white quills of its tail had a yellowish tinge. It looked like it was alert

But as it tried to crawl to the tree trunk, it almost fell off the limb. So we let it right itself without us looking on. Perhaps it was asleep when we disturbed it. We went to Meander Pond, angling through the one easy gap in the ridge north of the line of ponds from Audubon to Shangri-la ponds. We stood on the bare ground above the spring feeding the pond and saw that a beaver was out on the ice next to the lodge. It waddled over to the cache and back and then around the lodge and back. I moved over into the snow to get a better view

I could see that a beaver had toured all the on-going gnawing along the north slope of the pond, mostly large red oaks

Thanks to the thawing the snow now is only a four inches deep, and wet snow at that depth can register nicely distinct prints.

The beavers seemed to visit every tree in the area that beavers had been working since the late summer. The beaver did not come out of a hole in the ice along the shore, but walked from the lodge across the pond.

I noticed a spot of blood in the snow where the beaver had been gnawing. Don’t know what that might mean.

A little farther to the west, a spring keeps the water in the pond open, and the last winter I watched a beaver family in this pond that is where they did most of their tree cutting and trimming and bark stripping.

I think the difference this year is that since the beavers moved into the pond and established themselves only in the summer, they didn’t have time to dredge all the old channels. That, and the fact that most of the red oaks around the open water are already cut down. I moved farther down the pond to the red oak that had been the sole object of their gnawing when they first came out from under the ice two weeks or so ago. It looked to me like they had cut one red oak to that point where it was safer to let the wind blow it over.

Not that I went up to the tree and gave it a push. Indeed I moved back because there was a strong south wind in my face, though I think the way the tree is tilted it will fall toward the pond. A beaver had walked beyond that tree and girdled a white oak,

and a beaver also cut a small tree up along the rock cliff. I got the impression that only one beaver was walking around doing all this gnawing, at least there seemed to be only the tracks of one beaver going to and from everywhere. As I headed down to the hole in the dam, I was able to follow a beaver trail coming up from the hole heading back to the lodge.

Then I saw that a beaver brought a sapling to the hole in the dam.

It would have been nice to see a sapling sticking out of the hole, but I didn’t. So I can’t tell if the sapling is sitting there because another sapling is in the way, or because the beaver decided it might not be able to drag the sapling under the ice. Beaver trails headed from the hole straight down into the marsh below, the way the water flows, and also off to the southwest using a trail over to the saplings about 30 yards away up on firmer ground. I followed that trail and saw another sapling cut, ready to haul away.

I didn’t see the stumps of other freshly cut saplings, choke cherry, I think. The beavers got interested in these saplings after the leaves fell off, so I based my identification on the bark and color of the wood. Now I could get a photo of catkins and shriveled fruit.

Choke cherry? No way, says Leslie, my tree expert. So they are alders, which is what I thought when I first saw them months ago, but then the wood seemed so reddish. Having the impression that the beaver that had been out had done its touring for the day, I headed for the lodge in the middle of the pond, even though the wind would be at my back when I got close to the lodge. On my way I noticed that the beavers were not using the route they took in the fall to get to the alders. And as I was debating whether only one beaver in the family had been out on the ice, I looked up and saw a beaver standing in the snow about ten yards away from me. I got out my camera and took a video of its walk back to safety.

I say “walk” because it never quite broke into a trot, and then, much to my surprise, it didn’t go back to the hole next to the lodge but it climbed on top of the much smaller, old lodge ten yards west of the active lodge. I recalled that a coyote had dug a small into the top of the lodge at the beginning of the winter, so I expected the beaver to climb into a hole, but it didn’t. It kept gnawing on sticks. Then when I walked forward, it disappeared and I soon saw a well traveled beaver trail to the lodge.

And I got close enough to see the hole and the collection of tree trimmings and logs around it.

I suppose I could have tried to figure out from where this new above ice cache had been collected but I didn’t want to disturb the beaver who may have been only down in what remained of the living chamber of the old lodge. There is also a trail to the hole by the new lodge, not as well traveled though.

As I moved back and off the pond to the south I took a photo to try to show where the two holes are. I’ve never seen beavers use an old lodge like this before.

The beaver I had disturbed had been gnawing on two ash trees, not this family’s favorite food (It’s about all that the beavers in Audubon Pond cut.)

The beavers also returned to the woods south of the pond. Again, not bothering to open up a hole at the end of their south canal, they preferred dragging branches over the snow.

They found one small tree to cut relatively close to the pond,

which is a nonsensical thing to say since their “pond” is now effectively nothing more than two holes in the ice back near their lodge. Looking at it that way, these beavers were rather far from safety as they searched for food. Yet as I had just seen, they were not overly cautious as they walked around, even taking time out to nibble bark right where they cut the small tree on the edge of the woods.

They even went up on the ridge into the woods and dragged branches back to the pond.

And even there, they sat and gnawed, segmenting a log.

Then, to my amazement, I saw that a beaver went a little bit over the ridge well out of sight of its pond many yards away from their holes.

I headed off to the Lost Swamp Pond to check on the otters. Given this long piddling thaw, I had to be careful where I tried to cross the ponds. Then I picked up a fisher trail which persuaded me to walk up the north shore of the old Beaver Point Pond, now a meadow. Then the fisher went up the ridge, but the sight of porcupine work kept me on the north shore. The porcupine doing the work seemed to be headquartered at the hollowed out base of a huge oak where I've often seen porcupines den in the winter.

I can never get over how warm a den carpeted and surrounded with porcupine poop looks. I suppose porcupines keep their poop close by because they live alone during the winter and don’t have a warm body to cuddle up to.

The porcupine was not in and there was a trail going a few feet up the slope to a hole under a granite rock. This porcupine was feasting on a tall pine nearby.

What remained of Otter Hole Pond had puddling water and brown slush, so I crossed over along Otter Hole Pond dam, managing to leap across the slush in the now rather wide hole through the dam. I think I saw fisher tracks along the south shore of upper Otter Hole Pond, right where I’d expect to see them, but what I thought was a fisher seemed to have been digging up nuts. I realized that raccoons were out, at last. They are often the last animals to get out after snow and cold. They also tend to walk around ponds just like I do, staying off the ridges, poking around the shore. So my fisher morphed into a raccoon. Then I angled up and over the ridge so I can could come down right where the otters had come out at the west end of the Lost Swamp Pond. It was easy to see that otters had been out of the hole and went out into the slushy snow.

How many otters? I think at least two came out and nuzzled in the snow. Hard to picture one otter coming out twice to nuzzle -- these otters are obviously not comfortable coming out from under the ice. Plus a close look at the trails firms up the impression that two otters had been out there.

There was mud all around the hole in the ice, but I couldn‘t see any tracks or scats.

I saw more trails going out from the holes in the ice and then turning right back to the holes.

Three years ago I got a video of otters coming out of a hole through a muskrat lodge out on White Swamp. They were out in the fresh air for no more than ten minutes, nuzzling the snow, scating, but not venturing far from the hole. I walked up to the dam, and there was still a little opening into the pond but no sign that any otters used it.

I walked back to the hole they did use and checked a trail heading to the south slope of the pond, three trails, but they too didn’t go far, and turned back to the hole. Along the trail to the Big Pond, I only saw deer and raccoon tracks. I expected to see that beavers came out on the ice at that pond. I did hear beavers humming in that lodge a week or so ago, and they do have a cache. But they haven’t come out from the hole near the lodge.

I should have headed to the dam passing the old lodge. They may have moved down there, but the pond looked like it had turned into slushy brown ice

So I walked around the upper end of the pond which gave me an opportunity to make sure the beavers didn’t come out at the spring on the south shore, which the family did here back in 2001 affording me some great beaver observations throughout that winter. But the open water there seemed shallow, and well vegetated. No signs that beavers had been out there.

Now I had a chance to walk up the valley up through the ridge to the south and go home via the golf course. That’s usually the route I take when the snow is firmer. As usual porcupines are denning in some of the many opening in the rocks on the east slope of the valley.

I rarely come here when there isn’t snow on the ground so I am not sure how the porcupines use this area in other seasons. It strikes me that having snow on the rocky slope must make it easier for them to get about. Then up on the ridge just up from the golf course, I checked the hole at the base of the trunk of an old dead tree that has all but fallen over. I saw a porcupine trail leading to it,

And once again a porcupine was denning there, sitting atop its poop.

A porcupine has eventually denned there every winter I’ve come this way, some years not moving in until later in the season, and one winter a porcupine died in that den.

January 17 just as we got to the land the sun came out which raised our spirits. I headed off to check on the beavers assuming that they had come out during this lingering thaw -- the temperature was almost up to 40. Despite the thaw the snow in the woods was a little icy, so while it was not as deep as it was, still not easy to walk in. There were plenty of tracks to slow me down -- rabbit, deer and coyote, but I was anxious to get down to the lodge. And the beavers had been out.

They ignored the hole in the ice next to their lodge that the deer had made, and that while now frozen over with brown slush looked easy enough to break through, and made their own hole, probably more convenient to one of the under water entrances to their lodge. There were logs in the hole and nibbled sticks on the ice around the hole.

Unlike in Meander Pond where there were just two trails made by beavers coming out of each hole, beaver trails radiated from this hole. One went up onto the lodge.

Most of the others tracks headed up the ridge to the west. A beaver almost got up to the chair I sit on. Notice the gnawing it did on the tree half way down to the pond.

Even when they gained something to gnaw, as they climbed up the snowy ridge, it didn’t look like they managed to stay up there gnawing for long.

They had better luck when they walked a little up pond to a gentler slope and found a sapling to cut.

I heard one noise from the lodge, more like a grunt than a snore. I climbed the ridge myself, saw a few porcupine trails, and followed a coyote trail halfway home. Meanwhile Leslie had walked down the road and near the Deep Pond saw where the rabbits had gnawed the base of a tree. At first blush it looked like the work of the beaver, but rabbit prints and poops were all around it.

Out on the pond, which wasn’t too slushy, I saw a fan of turkey trails heading to the dam,

And a hole the deer scraped up to get a drink.

That was curious because there was a hole in the ice behind the dam. It seems deer actually prefer to beat down ice into a puddle of water rather than drink the pond water below the ice, which can be rather smelly, like rotten eggs, at this time of year.

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